Episcopacy in Strathearn

A History of the Church at Muthill from the earliest times to the present day

( written in 1907 )

An Early Period

The beautiful valley of the earn extending from Balquhidder to Newburgh was in olden days one of the distant routes of communication between the extreme west of Scotland and the east . The influence of the first Christian missionaries beginning in the west of Argyllshire soon extended itself to the east by the valleys lying between Loch Lomond and Loch Earn , and the track of  the missionaries can  still be made out  with little difficulty  by the existence of place names and  Church dedications .

Of the character  of that Irish Christianity  that thus came into Scotland ,there is little dispute  today .Generally speaking it partook of the character of ordinary Western Christianity , with this exception that whereas in the more highly organised parts of Western Europe it was diocesan , in Ireland and Scotland  it was at that time monastic. The Celtic Church knew well the difference  between a Presbyter and a Bishop , and Bishops performed the ordinary functions  of their office here as elsewhere , but the jurisdiction of the Church  was in the hands  , not of the Bishop, but of the Abbots . This , which is now a state of things well known to students , does not affect the constitution of the Church in the least , and it is strictly true to say that the first Christian teachers in Strathearn  were members  of an Episcopal Church ( no other had yet been conceived of ), ordained by Bishops , and holding the ordinary doctrines  of the Christian faith current at the time .

The early history of the faith at Muthill is involved in great obscurity; but there seems little reason to doubt the common tradition that connects it with Irish or Scoto – Irish  Missionaries . There are several places in the district where the name Patrick occurs , and a study of the ancient records  of the Parish shows  that the name Patrick was , at least until comparatively recent times , one of the commonest male names .

In all probability the first preacher of Christianity was St Fergus, who was at work at Strageath  and Muthill about the year 650 . He is supposed to have founded the Church at Strageath  and built it in honour of St Patrick , and Dalpatrick Ford across the Earn , just a little below Strageath still preserves the name of the great Bishop . That the dedication played a great part and entered very deeply into the life of the district  is attested by the fact , related by the writer of the statistical account of the parish , in the 18th century , who says  that St Patrick’s Day was even then kept as a holiday  , and that no sound  of labour was to be heard  all over the parish  on that day.

The history of the Church at Muthill in the period of the Middle ages  is closely connected  with the history  of the great Earls of Strathearn . These were not only great noblemen but great churchmen , and Fordun relates of Earl Gilbert  that he divided his estate into three parts – one for the Bishopric of Dunblane , one for the Canons of Inchaffray, and one for himself . His brother Malise , who was greatly interested in the Abbey of  Lindores , somewhere  between the years  1195 and  1199 granted Muthill Church  to Guildo , the first Abbot and so set in motion a long  course of litigation , which may be traced  in the book published in the  early 20th century called the “ Abbey of Lindores “ and written by the then Bishop of Edinburgh .

Muthill , it seems , was a mensal of Dunblane which just means that the revenues of the Parish of Muthill , after providing for the necessary clerical duties , went to support the Bishop of Dunblane . . When Muthill Church became connected  with the monastery ( ie Lindores ) , the flocks and herds on the Church lands were exempted  from paying tithes , and consequently , the income of the Bishop was reduced . Against this reduction  he appealed  to Rome , and the Pope appointed certain judges –the Prior of St Andrews – the Prior of May and the Archdeacon of St Andrews to investigate the case . About the year 1213 , William , Bishop of St Andrews settled the claim by deciding that Lindores should pay ten marks annually in lieu of the tithe and in 1235 this judgement was , on appeal , reduced to five marks .During the progress of the dispute one or two names of ecclesiastics occur and these practically are all the record we have for this period .

Padin signed a charter as “ Presbyter of Mothell “ in 1235 and the same document is witnessed by Maurice ,” Prior of the Keledei at Mothell ” . ( The Keledei referred  to are the Culdees  - the ancient Celtic Church whose  name  is  found  dotted all over the Strath in  a variety of place names ).These latter had been settled at Muthill for many years previously  , and had their monastery somewhat apart from the Church . Their rise was due in probability  to the  corrupt  state of the Church and  for a desire   for a stricter and better life .They were Churchmen  holding  all the ordinary views and attempting   by solitude and devotion to bring back the Church to more exact  conformity with its own teaching . As the days  and years went on , they too , faded from  their first purity  and became in turn as corrupt  as those they had attempted  to reform  . Gradually they were  suppressed or had  their energies   turned in another  direction   by being absorbed  in the Chapters of the Cathedrals . Their connection with Muthill came to an end probably  soon after  Prior Maurice’s time , and the only  relic of their existence  was in fact that Muthill Church  became associated  with  the Cathedral Chapter  , and the  Vicar of Muthill ( Lindores Abbey  was the Rector ), Dean of the Diocese .

The Charters of Lindores bring out a  fact hitherto unknown  about Muthill . In one  charter  , which is dated about 1220 , there is reference  to Maldunvenny, who is described as Rex scolarum de Mothell . The expression is not a common one but it points   to the fact that Muthill must be added  to the list of places possessing schools  in those early days . These schools , closely connected  as they were  , with the Church , were doubtless a survival of  a corresponding Celtic  institution , and show that Muthill  must have been a place of  considerable importance for the time .


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